ChemistryWestern Science

Alumni Biographies and Experiences

We are building an archive of biographies and stories from our Western Chemistry Alumni.  We welcome contributions from all alumni, whether BSc, MSc, PhD or Postcoc (send your ideas or contribuions to John Corrigan, Ken Yeung and/or Brian Pagenkopf).   

martyThe eight years that I spent at Western were both personally and professionally rewarding. After graduating from Western’s Biochemistry and Chemistry undergraduate program, I decided to pursue graduate studies in Chemistry at Western under the supervision of Prof. John Corrigan. I found the Chemistry program at Western provided an excellent combination of academic and hands-on learning opportunities, fostered by energetic and interactive faculty members. During my Ph.D. studies, I was encouraged to define the direction of my graduate research projects, challenge conventional perceptions, and strive for true innovation versus incremental improvement. In addition to a very strong foundation in chemical sciences, I appreciate the emphasis on creative and critical thinking that has enabled me to work across broad technology areas in my professional career.

My experience at Western has led to exciting career opportunities ranging from fundamental chemistry to product development and scale up. Following my Ph.D. studies, I completed a postdoctoral tenure at University of California-Berkeley in the area of molecular magnets, as a Fellow of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada. I joined The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) in 2006 as a member of Dow’s Chemical Sciences group where I developed new catalysis systems for producing polymers and glycol ethers. In 2008, I joined Dow’s Solar Solutions business, where I worked in multiple technical areas including moisture barrier films, solar cell interconnection and new solar materials, leading to the successful launch of Dow’s POWERHOUSE™ solar shingle.

I am currently R&D Director for Dow CMP Technologies business, leading a multi-functional organization focused on the design and development of new products to meet the demands of chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) process technologies at the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturers. I joined this business unit in 2011, serving roles of Product Development Leader and also a stint as the Asia Technology Director at our Taiwan R&D Center. Innovations have included the successful launch of Dow’s IKONIC™ pad platform designed for advanced node CMP applications.

My career in chemistry, which began with studies at Western, continues to take me on an incredible journey!

Marty W. DeGroot 
The Dow Chemical Company
Western B.Sc. Biochemistry and Chemistry, 2000
Western Ph.D. Chemistry, 2004
Creation date: October, 2015

I had initially entered the University of Western Ontario with the hopes of one day becoming a medical doctor. However, I began to find that I was enjoying my chemistry courses more than any of my other classes. Toward the end of my second year, I became convinced that chemistry was the field I wanted to be in and I decided to pursue it as my major. This decision was influenced in large part by the department of chemistry itself. I was very impressed by the faculty’s ability to offer both an excellent education in the classroom and a high-quality research experience in the laboratory.

During my undergrad, my background in chemistry allowed me to secure a summer job as a laboratory technician at a Praxair distribution facility in Paris, Ontario. My job at Praxair involved running various analytical tests on specialty packaged gases to ensure they met the required specifications. This entailed the use of analytical techniques such as gas chromatography, infrared spectroscopy, and flame ionization detection. It was a very rewarding experience to be able to apply my knowledge of instruments I had learned about in the classroom to a workplace environment. The common lab practices that had been taught to me in undergraduate labs translated well into an industrial setting and I felt that I had been well prepared for the job.

In my third year, I became enthralled with organic chemistry. This led to me volunteering in the laboratory of Professor Michael Kerr, where I was able to gain research experience working under the guidance of a PhD student in the lab. I continued my studies in the Kerr lab as a fourth year thesis student. This experience was easily one of the greatest parts of my undergraduate career and inspired me to take on graduate studies in chemistry.

I decided to go to the United States to pursue a PhD after a recruitment seminar that took place at Western given by Professor Corey Stephenson from the University of Michigan. A PhD in the US seemed like the perfect opportunity to have an adventure while at the same time continuing my education. After doing a little research (and seeing a few pictures of the beach), I was sold on the idea of going to California.

I am currently a PhD student in chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara. After graduating, I hope to continue performing research in the field of organic synthetic chemistry, whether that be in industry or academia. To this day I remain grateful to the department of chemistry at Western for an incredible undergraduate experience and for inspiring me to continue my studies in chemistry.

Jacob Lacharity
Graduate Student, University of California, Santa Barbara
Western B.Sc. Chemistry, 2015
Winner of the 2015 Andrew E. Scott Medal and Prize 
Creation date: February, 2016

When I initially entered Western in my first year, I was enrolled in the Medical Sciences program. My goal right from entering university had been to become a physician and the Medical Sciences degree path seemed to align well. Over the course of my first year, however, I found that my favourite course was Chemistry. To my family and friends surprise in my second year, I enrolled in the Honors Specialization in Chemistry program. It was throughout this process that I began to consider becoming a Chemist instead of a physician. 

Over the next three years at Western, I can firmly say that I did not once ever regret making the decision to switch into Chemistry. The professors were all amazing, the courses were diverse, relevant and rigorous; I also thoroughly enjoyed the lab aspect of the program, as it allowed me to fulfil my tactile learning side. The fourth year of the Honors Specialization program also deserves extra attention as the department did a fantastic job in preparing students for future employment opportunities within the field with a host of workshops on CV writing and interviewing skills. During these three years I still had the intention of becoming a physician, however as the years progressed, the alternative path of becoming a chemist became much more plausible. This was only made possible because of the fantastic experience I had in the Department of Chemistry and the strong community I formed there.

Currently, I am attending medical school at the University of Toronto. When I introduce myself to people in my program, many are surprised that I come from a physical science background instead of the usual biological one. The one question many of my peers ask me is if my undergraduate degree in Chemistry has helped me in the program so far. My time in Chemistry at Western was an invaluable experience and has provided me with a diverse and unique perspective that not many medical students have. For example, when we learn about drugs and their effect on the body, I look at the molecule and structure, and see how the charges or the polarity would affect the drug’s interaction with its receptor, which I believe will make me a more perceptive clinician and researcher.
Overall, my time in Chemistry was an amazing experience and I am evermore grateful for it!

Kathleen Winger
Medical Student, Univeristy of Toronto
Western B.Sc. Chemistry, 2015
2015 Gold Medalist in Chemistry
Creation date: February, 2016

ashley thompsonI chose to study chemistry at Western because I loved lab work in high school and I knew Western would provide the ultimate balance of a great education and an incredible experience. After first year I found that I preferred analytical chemistry over other chemistry disciplines and the number of courses available allowed me to gear my choices towards what I wanted to learn.

After graduation I started working as a Chemical Regulatory Consultant. In this position I wrote MSDSs and warning labels for chemical products. The knowledge that I gained during my time at Western proved invaluable when assessing my clients’ products for potential hazards.

After a year of regulatory work, I decided to take my education a step further and pursue a Masters of Engineering at Western. My chemistry knowledge from my Bachelors degree gave me a different perspective on engineering than those who came from other educational backgrounds. Through my Masters degree I gained a broader knowledge of chemical processes and the chemical industry outside of Western.

I am now employed as a Lab Analyst at Accucaps Industries in Strathroy, Ontario. I work in the quality control lab where we test pharmaceutical products and raw materials to ensure the quality of our finished products. I find that I use my knowledge and skills that I acquired at Western on a daily basis.

Ashley Thompson
Accucaps Industries
Western B.Sc. Chemistry, 2013
Western M.Eng. Chemical Engineering, 2015
Creation date: January, 2016

zack_mossmanWhile completing the undergraduate Chemistry program at Western, I was taught how to put the theories and knowledge we acquired in the classroom into action through both labs and my undergraduate thesis with Dr. Workentin. The faculty in the Chemistry program is top-notch, and always made an effort to ensure that we saw the connections between practice and theory and how what we were learning fit in with the bigger picture. The Chemistry program provided me with a foundation in scientific knowledge, but more importantly, it taught me how to think critically and analytically in a way that cannot be replicated through other disciplines.

As I progressed through the program, I found that although I ultimately enjoyed the subject material, I did not see myself as a career chemist. After some thought, I decided to enrol in the Master of International Business program at Queen’s (traitorous I know) where the unique analytical mindset that I built up through my training in Chemistry allowed me to set myself apart in contrast to my peers who came from the social sciences. This was particularly noticeable in my finance classes, where I found that I had a knack for solving problems that was rooted in the way we were trained to look at complex situations during my time in the Chemistry program.

I ended up deciding to pursue a career in financial services, and I currently work as an Investment Banking Analyst for Credit Suisse in London, UK. Getting to where I am today would not have been possible without the training and knowledge I gained throughout my time at Western.

Zack Mossman
Credit Suisse
Western B.Sc. Chemistry, 2013
Creation date: January, 2016

zack_mossmanMy undergraduate chemistry degree program at Western proved to be an ideal platform for my career as a patent litigation lawyer. The depth of course selection and quality of professors was exceptional, providing me with strong fundamentals across each of the different major disciplines of chemistry. However, I found that the true strength in the department lied in the outstanding learning environment in which us students were placed. A combination of coursework that fostered analytical-based discussion along with a bright and motivated group of classmates led to an environment that begot success. This atmosphere at Western Chemistry led me and my classmates to a diverse array of successful paths for our future professional careers.

Personally, chemistry served as a natural transition to law. While this is perhaps difficult to envision, the focus at Western Chemistry towards understanding rather than rote learning was a terrific breeding ground for a future lawyer. The student work opportunities at Western Chemistry, including the fourth year thesis project, provided an especially strong background in this regard. Further, chemistry provides a background that is particularly advantages to certain fields of law that have been traditionally less populated at law schools, thus giving chemistry grads with a leg up on their philosophy and English lit colleagues.

I exploited this leg up and became a patent litigation lawyer. I use my knowledge gained from Western Chemistry on a daily basis, in fact building on the knowledge gained from my chemistry degree to learn complicated inventions across fields such as organic, polymer, solid-state and formulation chemistry. In a nutshell, my job as a patent litigator requires me to retain world-leading experts in the field of the patented invention, develop a detailed understanding of the technology, and then explain to a judge why the patent in question is infringed or is deserving of its status as an “invention”.

In effect, the patent litigator is the professor and the judge the student. As I echo past lectures in the courtroom I am continually thankful for the strong foundations provided at Western Chemistry.

Alex Gloor
Intellectual Property Associate at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
Western B.Sc. Chemistry, 2008
York University D.Jur., 2011
Creation date: February, 2016